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United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit.

UNITED STATES of America v. Antonio RUTHERFORD, Appellant

No. 17-2681

Decided: September 12, 2018

Before: McKee, Vanaskie and Siler 1, Circuit Judges. Donovan J. Cocas, Esq., Rebecca R. Haywood, Esq., Office of United States Attorney, Pittsburgh, PA, for Plaintiff-Appellee Kimberly R. Brunson, Esq., Federal Public Defender Western District of Pennsylvania, Office of Federal Public Defender, Pittsburgh, PA, for Defendant-Appellant


Section 5K2.1 of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines advises sentencing courts to increase sentences for distribution of a controlled substance if death resulted.3 Antonio Rutherford appeals his sentence arguing that his distribution of heroin had to be the but-for and proximate cause of death of the victim for the enhancement to apply.

We have not decided whether § 5K2.1 requires a finding of actual and proximate cause or, as the District Court seemed to believe, merely “some causal connection.” 4 However, we need not decide that question today because the District Court found that both standards are met.

The District Court found that Rutherford sold heroin to the victim and that heroin actually killed the victim. That establishes actual causation. The court also found that it was reasonably foreseeable that the victim could die from using the heroin he purchased from Rutherford. That is hardly a remarkable proposition, and it establishes proximate causation. Both conclusions are supported by the record.

Finally, given the totality of the circumstances here, the sentence was clearly reasonable.

For these reasons, we will affirm the judgment of the District Court.


3.   U.S.S.G. § 5K2.1

4.   Compare United States v. Montgomery, 550 F.3d 1229, 1235-1236 (10th Cir. 2008)(“The touchstone of the inquiry is whether [the death] was reasonably foreseeable․”); United States v. Johnson, 151 F.Supp.3d 1226, 1233 (D.N.M. 2015)(“The Court concludes that § 5K2.1 contains a reasonably foreseeable requirement․”) with United States v. Diaz, 285 F.3d 92, 101 (1st Cir. 2002) (“We see no basis for foreclosing departure under § 5K2.1 when a defendant puts into motion a chain of events that risks serious injury or death, even when an intent to harm is entirely absent and the defendant was not directly responsible for the death.”).

McKEE, Circuit Judge.

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